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Alexandria, the Golden City, Vol. I - The City of the Ptolemies

Alexandria, the Golden City, Vol. I - The City of the Ptolemies

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Alexandria, the Golden City, Vol. I - The City of the Ptolemies

416 Seiten
6 Stunden
Nov 11, 2016


Originally published in two volumes in 1957, this is the first volume devoted to the rich history of the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria and focuses on the time of the Ptolemies.

“This book is dedicated to the story of Alexandria, called by Athenaeus “the golden city.” The story of Athens has been told by many writers; the rise and fall of Home has been the favorite theme of the historians; but the city of Alexandria has never had an extensive biography. This is a curious fact, indeed, since Alexandria, founded in 332 B.C. by Alexander the Great, developed into regal magnificence under the Macedonian Ptolemies, and for nearly a thousand years was one of the most remarkable cities in the world. The infirmities of old age came upon it near the close of the Roman Empire and the weary city finally passed into oblivion about 646 A.D. when the Saracen invaders destroyed at last the monuments of its old-world glory. Thus stretches the biography of Alexandria across ten of the most interesting centuries in human history!”

Richly illustrated throughout with maps, pictures and figures.
Nov 11, 2016

Über den Autor

Harold Thayer Davis (5 October 1892 - 14 November 1974) was a mathematician, statistician, and econometrician, known for the Davis distribution. Through his sister Marjorie, he also had a strong interest in and appreciation of Classical languages and Classical culture. Born in Beatrice, Nebraska, he received his A.B. from Colorado College (1915), his M.A. from Harvard University (1919) and his PhD under Edward Burr Van Vleck from the University of Wisconsin in 1926. He worked as a mathematics instructor at the University of Wisconsin from 1920-1923, and then as a mathematics professor at the Indiana University Bloomington from 1923-1937. In 1937, he became a professor at Northwestern University in the mathematics department and was selected for the position of department chair in 1942. Davis was the author of many articles in refereed journals and numerous books and monographs. He was an associate editor of Econometrica, Isis, and the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, and was elected a Fellow the Econometric Society. He died in Bloomington, Indiana in 1974 aged 82.

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Alexandria, the Golden City, Vol. I - The City of the Ptolemies - Harold T. Davis

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Text originally published in 1957 under the same title.

© Pickle Partners Publishing 2016, all rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted by any means, electrical, mechanical or otherwise without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Publisher’s Note

Although in most cases we have retained the Author’s original spelling and grammar to authentically reproduce the work of the Author and the original intent of such material, some additional notes and clarifications have been added for the modern reader’s benefit.

We have also made every effort to include all maps and illustrations of the original edition the limitations of formatting do not allow of including larger maps, we will upload as many of these maps as possible.












1. We Enter the Golden City. 11

2. The Boulevard Argeus. 14

3. Lake Mareotis. 17

4. The Trip by Canal. 18

5. The Great Museum. 20

6. Luncheon with Euclid. 22

7. We Visit the Library. 26

8. The God Serapis. 27

9. The Great Festival Begins, 29

10. The Animals March By. 32

11. The End of the Parade. 33

12. The Banquet Pavilion. 35

13. Art in the Golden City. 37

14. Their Majesties, the King and Queen. 39

15. The Banquet Begins. 41

16. The End of the Banquet. 44



1. The Sepulchre of Alexander. 48

2. The Tale of the Old Soldier. 51

3. The Taming of Bucephalus. 53

4. Alexander and Aristotle. 54

5. Dreams of Empire. 56

6. Alexander in Asia. 61

7. The Rattle of Issus, and After. 63

8. The Founding of Alexandria. 65

9. Alexander at the Shrine of Zeus-Ammon. 67

10. The Defeat of Darius. 69

11. Alexander in Babylon. 71

12. The Death of Darius. 73

13. The Black Deeds of Alexander. 75

14. The Conquest of India. 77

15. The March Through the Desert. 80

16. The Death of Hephaestion. 82

17. The End of the Adventure. 83



1. We Gather in the Hall of the Museum. 86

2. Theocritus, Father of Pastoral Poetry. 87

3. Zenodotus, the Textual Critic. 90

4. The Gathering of the Scholars. 92

5. The Rider of the Blind Pegasus. 93

6. Callimachus, Dictator of Letters. 95

7. The Dictator Speaks. 98

8. The Epic of Apollonius. 101

9. The Feud of the Ibis. 103

10. The Vindication of the Argonautica. 105



1. The Guests Assemble. 108

2. Archimedes Discourses on an Apple. 112

3. The Sun, the Moon, and the Earth. 114

4. The Heliocentric Theory of the Universe. 116

5. Archimedes Discusses Some Very Large Numbers. 118

6. On the Grains of Sand in the Universe. 120

7. Archimedes Launches a Ship. 122

8. The Story of King Hiero’s Crown, and Other Matters. 123

9. Conic Sections and the Achievement of Apollonius. 126

10. The Invention of the Method of the Calculus. 128

11. The Spiral of Archimedes. 130

12. The End of the Story. 132



1. Ptolemy, the Deliverer 139

2. The Wars of the Succession 142

3. Ptolemy Consolidates his Empire. 145

4. The Golden Reign of Philadelphus. 148

5. Ptolemy, the Benefactor. 151

6. The Hair of Berenice. 152

7. The Achievement of Ptolemy, the Benefactor. 154

8. The King of Evil. 157

9. Ptolemy as a Ship-Builder. 160

10. The Dreadful End of Agathocles. 162

11. The Reign of Epiphanes 166

12. The Confused Succession. 167

13. Ptolemy, the Sausage. 168

14. The War of the Brothers. 170

15. Reigns of the Later Ptolemies. 172

16. The Flute-Player Becomes a King. 173



1. The Story of Aesculapius 178

2. Magic and the Art of Healing. 180

3. Hippocrates, Father of Medicine. 183

4. Medical Science in the Museum. 186

5. Galen and his Influence. 188



1. Measuring the Earth 192

2. Eratosthenes, the Wise Man of Alexandria. 193

3. Estimating the Earth’s Circumference. 197

4. The Foundations of Scientific Geography. 199

5. The Voyages of Eudoxus. 203

6. The Geography of Strabo. 205

7. Polybius, the Historian. 207

8. The Map of Claudius Ptolemy. 210



1. The Mysterious Ctesibius 213

2. We Visit Hero’s Study. 216

3. The Puzzle of the Decapitation of the Horse. 219

4. Wine from the Miraculous Pitchers. 221

5. A Discourse on the Mysteries of the Vacuum. 224

6. We Pour a Libation by Means of Fire. 227

7. The First Steam Engine. 228

8. Other Devices in the Workshop. 231

9. The Water Organ. 234

10. A Fire is Extinguished in Alexandria. 236

11. The Mathematical Attainments of Hero. 238



1. The Astronomers 240

2. The Repudiation of Aristarchus. 242

3. The Theory of Epicycles. 244

4. Hipparchus, the Father of Astronomy. 246

5. Posidonius and the Theory of the Tides. 249

6. The Last Great Astronomer of Antiquity. 251

7. The Story of the Calendar. 253

8. The Significance of the Stars. 255




To My Sister Marjorie,

Whose Appreciation of Classical Languages, and of Classical Culture Has Kept Alive the Interest of the Author in These Matters, this Story of THE CITY OF THE PTOLEMIES is Affectionately Dedicated.


The story of a city is not unlike the biography of a man. Its life begins when it is founded; it grows into vigorous stature, nurtured by the forces which occasioned the selection of its site; it has moments of great prosperity when the tides of fortune are at their full; it has moments of despair when wars, Hoods, pestilence, and civil riots sweep over its boundaries; it dies at last when political and economic decay have finally destroyed its ability to meet the changing patterns of life.

This book is dedicated to the story of Alexandria, called by Athenaeus the golden city. The story of Athens has been told by many writers; the rise and fall of Home has been the favorite theme of the historians; but the city of Alexandria has never had an extensive biography. This is a curious fact, indeed, since Alexandria, founded in 332 B.C. by Alexander the Great, developed into regal magnificence under the Macedonian Ptolemies, and for nearly a thousand years was one of the most remarkable cities in the world. The infirmities of old age came upon it near the close of the Roman Empire and the weary city finally passed into oblivion about 646 A.D. when the Saracen invaders destroyed at last the monuments of its old-world glory. Thus stretches the biography of Alexandria across ten of the most interesting centuries in human history!

Alexandria in some respects is more important to the modern world than was either Athens or Rome, for in Alexandria we find much more of the scientific spirit than was exhibited in any other portion of the ancient world. Astronomy assumed a modern form; the earth was measured with amazing accuracy and the inquiring minds of the Alexandrians devised methods for determining such important values as the diameter of the sun and the moon, and the size of the orbit of the earth. The heliocentric theory of the solar system had been conceived; the movements of the tides were traced to the action of the moon. Euclid had produced a geometry which was to remain a standard text-book for twenty-two centuries or more. Archimedes had developed a method for finding the areas under certain curves and the volumes of special solids; Apollonius had exhibited the beautiful properties of the conic sections; Diophantus had founded the algebraic method. It is not unfair to say that the combined genius of the Alexandrians had pushed astronomy and mathematics almost to the point, where, twenty centuries later, Kepler, Galileo, Tycho Brahe, Descartes, Newton and other giants were again to take it up.

In medicine and art, in poetry and literary criticism, in geography and exploration, in history and philosophy, in a word, in all those matters which require a lively imagination and a capacity for arduous labor, the Alexandrians enriched the world.

The golden city was also the cradle of the Christian religion. The battle between pagan philosophy and the new religious ideas of the east was fought for four centuries in Alexandria, Philo, the Pythagorean, St. Mark, the evangelist, Plotinus, the Neoplatonist, Clement, the Greek father of the Church, Origen, founder of dogmatism, Athanasius, the exile, St, Anthony, the hermit, all march across the Alexandrian stage in the colorful drama of those ancient days.

Nestled in among matters then regarded as of greater importance to the city, we find the astonishing inventions of Hero, which might have changed the entire course of history had their significance been fully recognized. Working with the mysteries of the vacuum, he created numerous ingenious devices which involved in a fundamental way the principle of the steam engine. How narrowly, then, did the ancient world miss the advantages of this great power in the world of today!

The neglect of Alexandria, in comparison with Athens and Rome, may possibly be traced to the assumption that Alexandrian literature was inferior to that produced by these other cities. For this reason the period of the Ptolemaic rulers has frequently been called the Silver Age of Hellenistic literature. But while the greatest contribution of the Alexandrians was for us their superb science and the colorful human drama which unfolds in the war of the philosophies, the literature of that period was also astonishing enough. At the beginning of its history we find the imposing figure of Callimachus, the Dr. Johnson of his age, unable himself to attain the highest flights of poetry, but a trenchant critic, a writer of dictionaries, the high priest in the temple of the Muses. Two centuries later, the Roman poet Catullus, when his own Muse was halted by the death of his brother, wrote to a friend:

"And yet, despite these griefs of mine, O Hortalus,

I send to you this song of Callimachus."

The influence of this ancient poet is seen even in our own day in some of the lines of the Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope.

And were it not for the matchless epics of Homer and Virgil, we would turn today with far more appreciation to the majestic verses of the Argonautica, written by the Alexandrian singer, Apollonius of Rhodes. For in the eight or more centuries between Homer and Virgil there is no epic which can be compared with it; nor has its influence been negligible in the literary creations of our own time.

And certainly of the highest genius was Theocritus, creator of pastoral poetry, whose delicate lines have woven a golden thread through the literary strands of poets of later times. And the novel, too, and the tale of romantic adventure, had their origin in the literary efforts of the Alexandrian school. These matters we shall set forth in more detail at the proper time; it suffices now to show that the literary efforts of the Alexandrians are themselves a sufficient excuse for a history of the astonishing city which created them.

And the women of Alexandria! How could the story be complete without an account of them and the dramas in which they played a part:—Olympias, the witch-woman, mother of Alexander the Great; Arsinoe, the charming queen-goddess, who presided over the most spectacular court of ancient times; Berenice, whose stolen tresses are to be remembered forever in the name of the most delicate constellation in the sky; Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, whose magic enthralled two of the most eminent Romans of their times and brought one of them to ruin.

Nor can we forget Zenobia, the famous Queen of Palmyra, brought finally to Rome to adorn the triumph of Emperor Aurelian; nor Hypatia the beautiful philosopher, whose tragic death at the hands of the Christian mob marked the end of the four-century struggle between pagan philosophy and the religion which was to dominate both prince and pauper for many long years thereafter.

The history of Alexandria has also given us other names: Thais, the brilliant courtesan of Alexander the Great, and later, if we can believe the story, the wife of the first Ptolemy, prototype of the fanciful Thais of the tale of Anatole France; Agathocleia, the dark and crafty enchantress, whose plots finally brought the fourth Ptolemy to his ruin; Cleino, the cupbearer in the court of Ptolemy Philadelphus; Mnesis, the flute-girl; and Myrtion, one of the most notorious actresses of her day. The lives of these women are human dramas, now but dimly seen through the veil that time has wrapped around them.

The golden city is also not without its significance as an interpreter of the dramatic spectacles of our own times when mankind viewed with amazed bewilderment the convulsions of a war-torn world. For one will find in the chronicles of Alexandria every form of human passion. He will see a procession of kings both good and evil. He will become acquainted with emperors of lofty vision and with others whose degradation of mind and action surpasses belief. He will view periods in which human happiness reaches one of its higher points, when the arts and sciences flourish in a golden age. He will witness the rapid change to eras of tumult and civil war when storms of incredible human brutality sweep across the scene. And through these changing patterns of human happiness and human woe he may be able to understand more easily the reasons why the world is so often shaken by evil forces. And he may also derive the hope that these storms like others finally pass away and more benevolent periods emerge at last from the rack and ruin of the past.


Map of Alexandria (100 B.C.-100 A. D.)

The Tower of Pharos

Calumny by Botticelli from description of similar painting by Apelles

The Sarcophagus of Alexander the Great

Alexander’s Marches

The Battle of Issus

The Puzzle Invented by Archimedes

Quadrature of the Parabola

The Spiral of Archimedes

The Solution of the Puzzle of Archimedes

Genealogy of the Ptolemies

A Rural Scene from Alexandrian Art

The Oath of Hippocrates

The Duplication of the Cube by Eratosthenes

Estimating the Earth’s Circumference

Map of the World According to Eratosthenes (200 B.C.)

Map of the World According to Claudius Ptolemy (150 B.C.)

The Decapitation of the Horse (Hero)

Hero’s Flagon of Wine

The First Slot Machine

A Libation is Poured by Fire

The First Steam Engine

The Automatic Temple

A Lamp Which Trims its Own Wick

The Water Organ

The First Fire Engine

Planetary Orbits According to the Heliocentric and the Geocentric Theories

Hipparchus Discovers the Precession of the Equinoxes


1. We Enter the Golden City.

DURING ONE OF THE winter months of the year 279 B.C. there was great activity in the city of Alexandria. King Ptolemy Philadelphus, who had become ruler of Egypt some six years earlier on the voluntary abdication of his father, Ptolemy Soter (the Deliverer), was about to inaugurate the Five-years’ Feast with a gigantic festival. Months had been spent in preparation for this event, which was to honor the memory of his father and his mother, who had recently died. Because of the significance of the occasion and the fact that riches be yond the dreams of Arabian fairy tales had been part of his inheritance, the king had resolved to dazzle the eyes of his subjects with a pageant that should excel any other in the history of man. The details of this festive occasion overwhelm the imagination and certainly strain one’s credulity, for such was the magnificence of the display arranged by the wealthy king. But from it one can appreciate better than in any other ways the astonishing character of the city which in later years was to be called by Athenaeus "the Golden City of Alexandria."

In order that we may possess some of the advantages of an eyewitness to this festival, let us assume that a few days before the event we set sail with some scholars of Rhodes to be present at the feast. Our ship approaches the African coast as night falls, but we continue our course by the stars. There behind us wheel the two bears and almost directly over our bow and half way up the arch of the sky blaze Orion and Sirius, with the great Canopus below them just grazing the edge of the ocean. High in the western sky twinkle the Pleiades, while Leo keeps guard over the deserts of the east.{1}

Suddenly the pilot calls out: A light! A light! The star of Pharos! And there over our bow we see, indeed, that a new star has risen from the sea. Yellow it is and without a twinkle as the ones above us.

It comes from the new lighthouse on the island of Pharos, the master informs us. There is a sight that even you Rhodians for all your Colossus will look upon with wonder. We shall see it by the light of early morning if the wind holds.

And truly he spoke for as the sun rose from the sea in a cloud of fire the first rays touched the top of such a sight as one will never see in all the world again. There is the tower of Pharos, shimmering in white marble, one story piled upon another, and reaching the incredible height of nearly six hundred feet. The structure itself consists of four separate parts, the first being a large square building supported at each corner by massive towers. From the center of this arises the first tower, some fourteen or more stories in height and adorned along its outer edge by a series of statues. Surmounting this is a second and smaller tower, perhaps ten stories in height and adorned also with images of the gods. Above this is the light tower itself within which is kept burning during the night a great fire, visible, says, Josephus, some 300 stadia (about 34 miles) out to sea. The whole is surmounted by a great statue whose bronze surface gleams like burnished gold in the light of the rising sun. Correct, indeed, were the ancients in their judgment that this magnificent structure was to be regarded as one of the seven wonders of the world!

The Rhodians are naturally very much interested in this Alexandrian marvel since there was nearing completion in their own harbor a huge bronze statue of the god Helios. This also was to be classed as a wonder of the world and was to be known in history as the Colossus of Rhodes. Begun about the second year of the 118th Olympiad (302 B.C.) from the sale of the engines of war left by Demetrius Poliocetes when he lifted the siege of the city, the Colossus had slowly grown until it had reached the astonishing height of more than a hundred feet. This wonder of the world was prostrated finally by a violent earthquake in 224 B.C., but its huge fragments remained for many years and excited the astonishment of Pliny (A. D. 23-79) several centuries later. They were finally removed in 656 A.D. by the Saracens who sold the remains to a dealer in old metal. Nine hundred camels, it is said, were required to remove the fragments.

And who is the author of this great work? asks one of the Rhodians. Certainly he has made here a structure worthy of the triumph of our own architect, the famous Chares of Lindus.

The master, who is a native of Alexandria, swells with pride at this question and answers: If on your visit here you go to the island you will find an inscription at the base in letters a cubit high which reads: ‘Sostratus of Cnidus, son of Dexiphanes, on behalf of mariners, to the divine Saviors.’ Since the tower has been erected, we have noticed here that the Dioscuri [Castor and Pollux] have been much kinder to those caught by night upon the sea.

As we chatter thus the boat rapidly nears the shore. Our course is now held so as to keep the lighthouse on the right, for thus were we able to enter the harbor between Pharos and the rocky promontory known as Lochias. The site of Alexandria had been chosen originally because of the great advantages which the island of Pharos provided for harborage, Being at its nearest approach about 1400 yards from the shore, the construction of a great embankment, known as the Heptastadium [Seven stadia]{2}, formed two separate harbors, one opening toward the north-east and the other toward the south-west. The first, into which we are now entering, was known as the Great Harbor, and the second, connected through the embankment by two small channels bridged by causeways, was known as the Eunostus Harbor, that is to say, the Harbor of the Happy Return.

But if the first sight of Alexandria has filled us with wonder, the second sight is fully in keeping with what the Pharos tower has prepared us to expect. The entire shore line from the promontory of Lochias to within a short distance of the Heptastadium was lined with marble structures. The palace of the kings first greets our eyes, towering in sheer magnificence from the promontory of Lochias and extending itself along the shore line toward the east. What a magnificent setting for the dramas that were to be enacted there!

And next to the palace area, hugging the shore in the embrace of its two arms, is the tiny island of Antirrhodus, which forms a natural small harbor for the use of the vessels of the kings and their retinues. Behind it upon the high ground is the Theater opening upon the sea and forming an ideal setting for the pageants so dear to the pleasure-loving Alexandrians. Not far from the Theater and just visible over the western arm of Antirrhodus stands in solitary beauty the Temple of Poseidon, a fitting shrine to protect those who sail each day from the harbors out into the great domain of the god of the sea. Behind this and to the west are the public buildings, the Museum which we shall visit in due time, with its series of arcades, its assembly rooms, its dining hall, and the great Library close to the sea, the huge Gymnasium and the Courts of Justice, with their groves and gardens which adjoined it, and behind on higher ground as a sort of acropolis the Paneum or Temple of Pan. Built for the most part of white marble and adorned with sculpturing the equal of any produced in the Hellenic world, these buildings with their gay flower gardens and their flights of marble steps in a setting of broad, colonnaded streets, and seen by the light of a brilliant African sun, form a picture that is excelled by no other city of the ancient world. Not even Babylon with her hanging gardens, nor Athens with her acropolis, nor Pergamum with her temples, nor Antioch with her paradise of Daphne can match this gem of Egypt.

2. The Boulevard Argeus.

Since we bear letters from the king of Rhodes to Ptolemy Philadelphus, our ship puts in to the king’s wharf behind the island of Antirrhodus, which, as one may well imagine on the eve of the great festival, was even at that early hour bustling with activity. Our vessel is met at the wharf by an official who examines our credentials and summons a guard to direct us to the palace.

Because of the credentials which we have with us we are kindly received by no less a person than the dioketes himself, a man by the name of Satyrus, who is the chief steward of the royal palace and, we are told, has control of the vast financial resources of the king. Comfortable quarters are given to us in a part of the palace which overlooks the sea and we are told that we may have the freedom of the city and that we are to dine in the king’s hall during our visit to Alexandria. The king, it seems, is very friendly to scholars from foreign cities and he seeks, wherever he may find them, new books for the great library in which he takes a special pride. Our gift of Map of ancient Alexandria compiled from the maps of several authorities. Since the old city has never been excavated the reconstruction must be made principally from literary sources a few rolls from the scholars of Rhodes will provide an open road to the king’s heart.

Since the day is young, we eat a light breakfast of bread and fruit and unmixed Mareotic wine for which this region is justly famous, and set forth to see the city about which we have heard so much. Although this is the month of February, the sun is warm and the cool breeze from the ocean invigorates our bodies. The gardens are brilliant with flowers and the acacia trees are in full bloom. There is a hum of activity within the walls of the palace gardens, for the workmen are putting the finishing touches to the great hall that is being constructed for the banquet which is to follow the festival. This we shall visit in due time.

We proceed first to the gate of the Moon [Selene] which opens upon the magnificent avenue known as the Boulevard Argeus. This thoroughfare extends south for a mile and a half through the center of the city and terminates at the Gate of the Sun [Helios], through which one must pass in order to reach the harbor of Lake Mareotis.{3} It is one of the three principal streets of Alexandria and by the industry and planning which has made Alexandria one of the most beautiful cities in the world, the sight that greets our eyes is astonishing enough. The avenue is about 100 feet in width and is lined on both sides by colonnades. As we walk south along it we see on our right hand the buildings of the area of the Regia, a symphony in marble, terminating in the palace of the Dicistery, where the courts of law are located. On our left hand stretch interminably to the walls of the city the dwellings of the Jewish quarter.

Proceeding down this magnificent boulevard, we come at length to the main thoroughfare of the city, the famous Street of Canopus, or the Meson Pedion, which extends some three miles from the Gate of Necropolis on the west to the Canopic Gate on the east. Were we to proceed along this great avenue we should pass through the Jewish quarters to the city wall and thence out upon a sandy plain sloping toward the sea. Here we would find first the great Hippodrome where the Alexandrians are treated to chariot races and other track events in their leisure moments. Beyond this is the Grove of Nemesis and not far away the settlement of Eleusis which is devoted to the entertainment of the Alexandrians, a kind of Coney Island, where there is revelry by night. Eleusis, says Strabo, "is a colony near Alexandria and Nicropolis and it is situated upon the Canopic canal; it has dwellings and

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